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Traffic fatalities declined in 2018, but pedestrian deaths actually rose

Cyclist fatalities also increased, according to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Pedestrian walking

Urban pedestrian fatalities rose a massive 69% over the last decade.

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The latest crash fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, released on Tuesday, is a mixed bag. On one hand, traffic fatalities fell again from 2017 to 2018, but on the other, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities rose.

In total, the data compiled for 2018 showed traffic fatalities decreased by 2.4% to 36,560 deaths when looking at passenger vehicles. Fatalities also dropped by 0.9% in 2017, which is a good trend after two years of increases prior to 2016. Within the data set of vehicles, the only category that showed an increase in fatalities was the large-truck subset, which includes semis. Last year saw seven more fatalities for a 0.8% increase.

Underscoring the positive news surrounding traffic deaths is the vehicle miles traveled figure. It rose by 0.3% last year, which means Americans drove more miles, but fewer traffic fatalities occurred. Coinciding with the figure is the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. It dropped by 3.4% for a final figure of 1.13 fatalities per 100 million miles driven.

Now, back to the bad news. Pedestrian fatalities have risen this entire decade. In 2009, NHTSA data showed pedestrians and cyclists made up 14% of all fatalities. In 2018, they made up 20%. 

This likely has something to do with population shifts to towns and cities. Between 2008 and 2017, NHTSA says, urban areas saw a 13% uptick in population. This translates to more pedestrians, and thus, more pedestrian fatalities. Highlighting the added congestion is data that showed vehicle miles travelled in urban areas increased by 14%, overall urban fatalities increased by 34% and pedestrian fatalities increased by a whopping 69% over that decade.

Rural areas largely saw fatalities decrease save for, once again, pedestrians. Even rural portions of the country registered a 0.1% increase in pedestrian deaths. The overall picture is a stark one: 2018 saw the most pedestrians and cyclists killed since 1990.

As the spotlight focuses more on pedestrian safety, automakers have started to include pedestrian-sensing technology with new vehicles as either optional or standard equipment. A recent AAA study, however, found pedestrian detecting systems rarely worked as needed. In fact, they were flat out useless in the dark.

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